27/05/2010 - 00:00

Borders no barrier for online assistant

27/05/2010 - 00:00


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DEBRA Barber started home-based Online Personal Assistants in May 2008 after deciding against a return to full-time employment following the birth of her second child.

DEBRA Barber started home-based Online Personal Assistants in May 2008 after deciding against a return to full-time employment following the birth of her second child.

With 15 years in the corporate sector behind her, Mrs Barber drew on her experience in providing administrative and personal assistant support to start her business.

As a virtual assistant, she provides clients with professional administrative, technical and creative assistance from her Rockingham-based home office.

The business’s activities range from developing databases to creating e-newsletters, Excel spreadsheets, as well as undertaking research, mail outs, and uploading online networking sites such as Linked-In or Facebook.

“Starting this type of business seemed the only option when researching possible self-employment,” Mrs Barber told WA Business News.

To get the business off the ground, Mrs Barber began researching the online personal assistants sector, gathering information in particular about the standards in terms of services and cost structures.

Online searches turned up the Australian Institute of Office Professionals, and support network Women’s Network Australia.

These organisations, along with the Small Business Development Corporation and local business enterprise centres, would later become integral elements to Online Personal Assistants’ success.

The Alliance for Virtual Biz reports there are about 20,000 virtual assistants worldwide, with at least 2,000 located in Australia and a “handful” based in Perth.

Mrs Barber said although competitors existed in Perth, such as Dymonds Secretarial Service, Dawson Documents, Encore Administration, Cyberspace Virtual Services, Smart Office Solutions, Quantum Virtual Assistant, there was a great sense of camaraderie within the industry and plenty of work to go around.

But while Mrs Barber was happy to work minimal hours and successfully juggle family life with her two young children, an unexpected turn of events forced her to grow the business – quickly.

“Growth was slow, however, I was happy with where I was headed and content with the few clients that I had,” she said.

“When my husband was made redundant early in 2009, I was then forced to work more to build the business to help support the family.”

Initially, Mrs Barber found it difficult to cope and enlisted the services of a life coach.

Instead of using a business coach, Mrs Barber felt a life coach could better assist her in terms of both her family and working life, by mentoring and training on one end and using psychotherapy and counselling at the other.

“Over the past two years I guess the main issues I have faced are to do with my own self-perception of my abilities,” Mrs Barber said.

“I remember when I first started I would really doubt myself as a business owner because this was completely new territory.

“Even though I knew my skills were excellent, that I am a fast learner etcetera, it was still quite daunting to begin with.

“But I took the leap of faith, started the business and enlisted help to assist me in getting over this.”

Mrs Barber said the life coach helped her work through her issues of self-perception and confidence, allowing her to grow as a business owner.

This work and the results obtained led to her business growing from having no retainer clients to 13 retainer clients in a just a few months.

“Because I could come across as more confident, I found I was getting a completely different response from potential clients than I did when I was more shy or not confident,” she said. “I could more confidently pitch the business to prospective clients and to prospects.

“I did a lot of face-to-face networking to start with, and although I was already networking anyway, this proved to be successful so I really ramped it up and got to a stage where I was doing two events a week.”

In just two years, Online Personal Assistants has grown to take on up to 20 clients, including one in Israel, with 13 now on retainer, while others utilise the service on a per-project basis.

Mrs Barber remains committed to professional development, attending networking events and taking courses both online and in person.

She recently took the steps to become VA certified through VAcertified.com.

“I am currently meeting with a business coach to enlist more specialist assistance. I also sit on the Committee of Management for the Australian Institute of Office Professionals as the Program Convenor,” Mrs Barber said.

“This has been a great opportunity for personal and professional growth.”



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